Industry experts dish on new ways to measure golf fitness

Rory McIlroy during the second round of the Tour Championship.

ORLANDO -- Please don’t throw stones at noted golf instructor Mike Malaska.

Here at the World Golf Fitness Summit, where Malaska called the aggressive swing of World No. 1 Rory McIlroy “a train wreck waiting to happen,” he was reflecting on the new concept of golf fitness.

Fitness is fitness, right? Absolutely not, according to many modern disciples of health and well-being for golfers. It is much more than just “being in shape.”

Golf fitness goes far beyond big biceps and six-pack abs. Golf fitness is more than just a solid core and a muscular body. Golf fitness incorporates injury prevention. Golf fitness encompasses longevity, the ability to play the game for decades to come. Golf fitness includes the capacity to participate actively in all sorts of physical activities, not only golf.

Malaska, himself suffering from herniated spinal discs, was expressing concern for McIlroy and his future as a golfer. He talked about the stresses that a golf swing of 120 to 130 miles an hour can place on the human body, and he said bluntly that McIlroy’s swing makes him a candidate for injury.

Many of today’s golf instructors are intensely studying the human body. Well-known teacher Mike Adams is one of the leaders of this movement, and he told an audience of more than 500 at the World Golf Fitness Summit that Camilo Villegas has lost his golf game because he renounced his natural instincts and adopted a swing plane that doesn’t fit his body type.

Because they are squarely in the sports spotlight, touring pros are easy to scrutinize. The point here, though, is that all players need to pay close attention to the supercharged nature of the modern golf swing. If a fast-paced swing gets out of balance in one way or another, the effects can be devastating. Today’s hero can become tomorrow’s zero.

“As a skilled golfer, you have to concentrate on basic movement patterns,” Malaska added. “Out of control doesn’t get it. It’s the structure of the golf swing that counts. It will break down if you’re not careful.”

This is not to predict that McIlroy will hurt himself and tumble from the world stage. But Malaska and some other instructors have wondered how long the 23-year-old Northern Irishman can continue his hellbent assault on the golf ball.

The obvious swing comparison is between McIlroy and Tiger Woods. At 36, Woods has endured four surgeries on his left knee. McIlroy is unlikely to engage in sky diving -- as Woods did several times with friends in San Diego -- but he exhibits the same pronounced body snap and warp-speed rotation that were characteristic of the young Woods.

Back to Villegas and McIlroy: Both are thin and fit, both are workout junkies. But, according to Malaska, that’s beside the point.

“You don’t have to be in shape to play golf well,” Malaska. “We’ve got to change the perception.”

But, as championed by Adams, all golfers can benefit from an understanding of fitness and their own bodies. No instructor in golf has done more research into body types and swing types than Adams. He even created the LAWs of Golf philosophy as a method for offering any golfer of any skill level a swing that is customized to his or her build.

When Villegas attempted to modify the plane of his backswing, Adams observed, he was changing the natural swing appropriate for his body. After winning twice in 2008 and once more in 2010, Villegas now finds himself outside the top 150 on the 2012 PGA Tour money list.

Another reason for staying in harmony with the body is injury prevention. For golfers, this is a major component of fitness.

“We have more people (touring pros) hurt than ever before in the history of golf,” Malaska said. “More and more people are coming to the game, and more and more are leaving because of injury. ”

And so Malaska is preaching fitness of the active variety -- running, jumping, throwing, twisting, bending -- rather than pure weight lifting.

“I don’t want kids playing only golf,” he said. “Golf can be their major sport, but I want them doing all kinds of sports and activities. That’s how you develop your athletic personality.”

Malaska would like adults, too, to remain as physically active as possible. They will play better and probably hit the ball farther, he said.

Toward this end, some fitness instructors have started so-called “boot camps” to promote movement, quickness, flexibility, balance and dexterity.

“We’ve confused players with information that isn’t relevant to movement,” Malaska said. “Golf is all about how you move, not how much weight you can lift.”

Welcome to the new fitness.

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